Oh, the travails of being a Justice
Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy recently found himself in the middle of a mini-scandal. The reason: His office demanded that he be allowed to pre-screen an article in the Dalton School’s student newspaper about the justice’s recent visit -- not exactly copacetic with First Amendment values. Justice Kennedy also barred the professional press from the event -- something he does routinely in a school setting.
Kennedy is only the latest robed one to meet with criticism for trying to control media access to his outside appearances. Justice Antonin Scalia, for example, is notorious for routinely -- although not uniformly -- barring television cameras or other recording devices from his speeches. And don't bother broaching the subject of allowing cameras in the Supreme Court during oral argument unless you're prepared to endure a rant about the corrupting influence of television coverage.
As for the latest controversy: Kennedy’s grandson attends the Dalton School and grandpa agreed to talk to students about the U.S. legal system and the constitution. No one would have thought twice about a private visit to the school by a grandfather; even Supreme Court justices deserve that much consideration. And there are undoubtedly times -- most notably family-related or social events of a purely personal nature -- when excluding reporters would be appropriate. But Kennedy’s Dalton visit wasn’t exactly private, given that student journalists were allowed to chronicle the event and outside press regularly pick up on such dispatches.
Even Kennedy has trouble rationalizing his decision to green light student journalists but nix attendance by the the pros. “If you tell the press...that they can’t come, and the school press does it anyway, is that fair? I just don’t know how to handle that,” he told The Wall Street Journal's Jess Bravin.
Here’s an idea: Don’t bar the professional press. The Supreme Court press corps is a relatively small unit, and most members don’t follow justices the way that White House reporters shadow the president. Events like the Dalton visit don't usually attract a lot of attention, which is why it is silly to try to micromanage them.
Justice Kennedy also said he does not seek pre-publication review of articles written about him and that he was unaware that a relatively new employee in his office had asked the school for such a privilege.
Justices are public figures -- whether they like it or not. If they are going to shut out the press from appearances outside of the courthouse, they must have a darned good reason. In the case of the Dalton School, Kennedy failed the test.
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